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Accompanied by original art, The Evolved Nest is a beautiful resource for Nature advocates, parents-to-be, Animal lovers, and anyone who seeks to revitalize Earth wellbeing. Through lessons from the Animal world and scientific insights, The Evolved Nest shows how to restore natural wellness in our families and communities by living in harmony with Nature.
Each chapter explores a species-unique “evolved nest,” a way of living with Nature and raising families which has been perfected through evolution over millions of years to optimize development. The Evolved Nest shows the heritages we share with Animal kin. You’ll learn:
● How Wolves display moral commitment
● How Elephant communities provide mutual lifetime care
● How Beavers not only work but foster a spirit of play in their children
● The emotional and social intelligence of Octopus
● How, when, and whether (or not) Brown Bears decide to have children
● What the neuroscience of child raising can teach you—whether you’re a parent, grandparent, caregiver, or child-free
Psychologists Drs. Darcia Narvaez and G. A. Bradshaw describe how each evolved nest offers inspiration for reexamining our own systems of nurturing, understanding, and caring for our young and one another. Combining stunning scientific facts with lessons from neuroscience, psychology, and evolutionary biology, we learn to understand and care deeply for our Animal kin and our innate place within the natural world.
In the arrogance of what we like to call our civilized culture, we tend to see ourselves as superior in intelligence and accomplishment to our evolutionary cousins, the other Animals with whom we share the Earth. We even look down with pride on brother and sister humans whom we are pleased to dismiss as “primitive,” such as Indigenous people and, more especially, the few, small remaining hunter-gatherer groupings that still cling to a tenuous existence in the face of the relentless march of “progress.” This is what the anthropologist and author Wade Davis calls “cultural myopia,” the sense that “other peoples are failed versions of ourselves. Or that they are ancient, vestigial creatures, destined to fade away, quaint and colorful humans who wear feathers. These are living, dynamic people who have something to say.”[i]
This gem of a book, modest in length but vast in erudition and insight and rich in mind-boggling scientific observation, will leave the reader both humbled and grateful. Subverting our egoic self-satisfaction, it illuminates how humanity has forgotten its own nature, even as it has abandoned and turned against the Nature that formed and sustained us over millions of years. In doing so, our authors, psychologists Darcia Narvaez and G. A. Bradshaw, also point the way to redemption. No fanciful social utopianism here; only a profound understanding of what our core needs are, right from conception, and what we have to learn from the ancestral human and Animal ways of being as they were formed in the crucible of Nature.
The salutary subversiveness of The Evolved Nest is that it shows our commonality, in the deepest emotional sense, with fellow creatures such as Parrots, Elephants, Whales, Wolves, Penguins, and even Octopuses. The capitalizations are the authors’ device for reminding us of the essential personhood and psychological complexity of these other beings whom we assume to be so different from our own genus, Homo.
Unlike humans still connected to Nature, most of us don’t think of ourselves as sharing emotional dynamics with other Animals. Yet from the point of view of modern neuroscience, when, say, Indigenous peoples ranging from Alaska to the Amazon refer to Animals as relatives to be honored, they are accurate. Neuroscientists have pointed out that we share evolutionarily bestowed primary emotional processes with a wide variety of species. The brain circuits humans share with other creatures—as this book elegantly illustrates with examples that more than once left this reader in a state of wonder—include caring love, joy, play, panic, and grief. Witness, for example, the heartrending story of a young Elephant who twice in his short existence suffered the loss of a mother figure. As the authors reveal, we share with Animals the capacity for consciousness, feelings, thoughts, and dreams. An Octopus with a neural substrate for cognition, self-awareness, and consciousness? Yes.
The emotional dynamics generated by these cerebral circuits serve well-being, compassion, self-regulation, confidence, and other healthy qualities, as they are meant to; but only if they are evoked by the proper circumstances—that is, only if their development is supported by the evolved nest. “Evolved nests,” Drs. Narvaez and Bradshaw tell us in their introduction, “are developmental systems tailored to nurture psychological, social, physical, and neurobiological needs in a species-unique manner.” For humans, they later elucidate, the evolved nest is the set of processes and structures that provide children with the social and ecological microenvironment perfectly tailored for optimal growth and health. To put it bluntly, we have lost the plot in the pursuit of economic and technological advancement. This has been a traumatic development in the history of our species, one whose ramifications we are experiencing all too keenly in the epidemic of ill health, mental disturbances, aggression, social divisions, and other plagues that beset present-day societies. It is no slur on human ingenuity nor a denigration of modernity’s truly miraculous inventions and achievements to argue, as our authors do, that we have much to learn from our hominin forebears and from the animals whose evolved nesting practices they document so eloquently.
Did you know that an Elephant newborn is greeted by the gentle stroking of a posse of other mothers? That Emperor Penguins share gestational duties between male and female and that the safekeeping of their offspring, as of young Whales, is a communal task? That Wolves, even if childless, will lactate to feed the young ones when the clan’s needs call for that? In case after case, this book teaches us how Nature has inculcated collaboration, empathy, a communal ethic, and mutual support as the necessary legacy of each species for the optimal development of their fledglings. This is true for humans as well—though one would hardly know that from observing how we gestate, birth, and raise our infants and young children today. With the loss of the evolved nest, we have become alienated from the benign child-nurturing instincts with which Nature has imbued us over eons. For example, we are the only species who, by design and according to the prescriptions of “experts,” allow infants to cry without responding to their distress in order to “teach” them to sleep—thereby impairing their brain development and jeopardizing their future mental health, as Darcia Narvaez has shown elsewhere. Nor, in Nature-based human cultures, are the young hit, harshly punished, or isolated from caregivers as a way of bringing them to heel. On the contrary, the authors note later in this volume that “any aggressive actions in the toddler years are greeted with playful response, as everyone knows that young children are not yet fully empathic or aware of their actions’ effects.”
Having lost its evolutionary niche, our species is inflicting its distress upon our fellow creatures, as Dr. Gay Bradshaw already documented in her remarkable work on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Elephants. This book, too, abounds in lamentable examples of Animal cultures—such as Wolves in Yellowstone National Park or even in the Alaskan Denali wilderness—being traumatized at the hands of humans who, unlike Indigenous people, have no concept of being part of Nature, having become severed from their own nature by the traumatic demise of the evolved nest.
As a result, there is almost as much sadness as beauty in this exquisitely crafted book. Yet our authors leave us on a positive note: they have written here not a dirge, after all, but a paean to Existence, to the possibilities inherent in us, despite our losses, and a call for a future informed and reinvigorated by what the past and everlasting Nature can teach us.
 Wade Davis, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2009), 13.
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“This gem of a book, vast in erudition and insight and rich in mind-boggling scientific observation, will leave the reader both humbled and grateful.”
--Excerpt from foreword by Gabor Maté, author of The Myth of Normal
This is the most thought-provoking, fascinating, challenging, beautiful book I’ve read in years. With remarkable scholarship and compelling storytelling, the authors examine the consequences of humanity’s arrogant, and, ultimately, futile rebellion from the natural world. There are qualities of the human brain which have allowed our species to invent ourselves into our modern world and live as if we are apart from, and ‘above,’ the rest of the natural world. The authors continually remind us we are ‘a part’ of the natural world. Reflecting on this unavoidable truth, the authors provide guidance for moving forward in our sociocultural evolution. These reflections on the true gifts of our ‘nature’ provide suggestions for recapturing the power of these gifts in all of our childrearing and community-building practices. This book is a wonder on so many levels; the combination of expertise and mastery from these two scholars creates a unique, rich experience for the reader. From an encyclopedic knowledge of the lives of other species to developmental psychology to the basics of brain development, the authors make cross-disciplinary connections to illustrate the urgent need to create biologically respectful practices, programs, and policy, especially in early childhood.
--Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.
Principal, The Neurosequential Network
Professor (Adjunct), Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University
Professor (Adjunct), School of Allied Health, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
“In this groundbreaking volume Gay Bradshaw and Darcia Narvaez seamlessly weave back and forth between animals and humans in order to describe the deeper mechanisms, common to both, activated in the evolved nest that optimizes the socioemotional growth of a developing organism. Writing in an evocative, passionate, and at times poetic style, they offer numerous fascinating intimate portraits of the early beginnings of the evolved nest across not only humans but a broad spectrum of species, and thereby their shared capacity for engagement, self-regulation, play, love, and consciousness. The authors anchor this creative interdisciplinary work in recent neuroscience, specifically in an expanding body of research on the early developing emotional right brain and its central role in evolutionary conserved mechanisms of brain lateralization, synchrony, attachment, nonverbal communication, and survival strategies that operate at subconscious levels over the lifespan. This book is both an absolute pleasure to read, yet at the same time it provocatively challenges us to rethink our relationship with and moral responsibilities to the other species with whom we share the planet.
--Allan N. Schore, Ph.D., Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, University of California at Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine
“Taking us on a timely and vital tour of our evolutionary history of cooperative child-rearing, Narvaez and Bradshaw provide a crucial documentation of how our ancestral history is one of collaborating as a larger identity than the lessons modern culture portrays of solo-self in isolation not only in childcare, but in our larger life journeys. With this perspective we are given a pathway back to the truth of our larger experience of self, one deeply woven not only in these bodies we are born into, but also in the relationships with humanity and nature that are waiting for us to reclaim our joyful belonging to all life on Earth.”
--Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., New York Times Bestselling Author, IntraConnected: MWe (Me plus We) as the Integration of Self, Identity and Belonging
“The Evolved Nest: Nature’s Way of Raising Children and Creating Connected Communities by Darcia Narvaez and Gay Bradshaw is a timely and important book for people of all cultures, humans of all ages to shed the anthropocentric arrogance that we are superior to other species. They invite us to turn to nature and our non human animal relatives to learn the ways of “mothering” - of care for the earth, all her beings and future generations.
--Dr Vandana Shiva, physicist, ecofeminist, food sovereignty activist (India)
One of the greatest misconceptions of the dominant worldview is that humankind is essentially different from the rest of the natural world. In this masterpiece of reconceptualization, Narvaez and Bradshaw reveal the deep commonalities in the developmental systems of both humans and our nonhuman Relatives. We discover how, like our Relatives, humans have an evolved nest that optimizes our wellbeing from conception through adulthood—and how, to our detriment, that nest has been shattered by the destructive sociocultural forces too often viewed as signs of human “progress.”
— Jeremy Lent, author, The Web of Meaning and The Patterning Instinct (UK)
"This profound, wonder-filled, and deeply reasoned book will transform how you adapt to these times of environmental crises and traumas of historical injustices. Drawing upon inspiring studies of the deep caring, playful, and moral tendencies of our mammalian relatives, from bears to elephants, and the deep scientific wisdom of Indigenous peoples, "The Evolved Nest" will reveal to you a new and empowering path forward to relating to those you love, society, and the natural world we are part of."
–Dacher Keltner, Director of the Berkeley Social Interaction Lab and author of AWE:
The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How it Can Transform Your Life
“The Evolved Nest should be required reading for people of all ages globally because the future of our fragile, magnificent, and interconnected planet depends on the goodwill and love of everyone living everywhere--people of all cultures. And there is no better cohort on which to focus than youngsters, because they are the future, they will be making decisions that affect their agemates and people of all ages and they deserve to inherit the best world possible and make it even better. Personal rewilding--connecting or reconnecting from the heart with nonhumans and humans and the places they live is a good way to go as we move ahead. As the authors emphasize, universal "nestedness" is a great way forward and a central element in personal connections to all of nature. Ever-growing challenges in a human-centered world demand that we all work together and put aside differences and barriers because like it or not, we are all in this together and a united front will surely increase the possibility that we will be able to make life better for all of earth's citizens.
--Marc Bekoff, author of Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence.
“In The Evolved Nest Narvaez and Bradshaw compassionately remind us of our evolutionary and contemporary connection with the diverse social systems of nonhuman species that populate the earth. We are reminded that other species, especially mammals and birds, share our instinctive quest for safety, trust, and connection that serve as a resource to care for their young. But, more importantly they provide insights into how disruptions in appropriate parenting not only destabilize the culture of humans but have similar consequences on the socio-behavioral cultures of nonhuman social species. This parallel between humans and other social species provides insights into the profound impact of disruptions in the predictability of safety and trust within social cultures, which predictively increases the prevalence of aggression and behavioral parallels in several species of anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Narvaez and Bradshaw succinctly articulate the naturally evolved features of both animal and human cultures as the “evolved nest.’ They remind us that to optimize the development of our young, we need to look for commonalities with our phylogenetic ancestors (mammals) and cousins (birds) to learn the powerful lessons of evolution that have been encoded in the ‘evolved’ nest.
--Stephen W. Porges, PhD, Distinguished University Scientist, Kinsey Institute Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Author of Polyvagal Safety (Norton, 2021)
Raising emotionally healthy children is crucial to moving away from this destructive culture. Remembering that we are animals who evolved in wild nature is equally vital. This wondrous book seamlessly merges these topics in ways that are both startling and deeply, profoundly, beautifully familiar. This book is more than anything a homecoming, and is essential reading for those who care about children, those who care about life on this planet, and those who recognize (or need to recognize) that those topics are inextricably intertwined.
--Derrick Jensen, ecophilosopher and author of The Myth of Human Supremacy
The Evolved Nest shows how much we can learn from Nature about collaboration, empathy, and mutual support as strategies to survive, thrive, and better care for our own children. Based on scientific observations, it is a fascinating work about many species, from elephants and bears to whales and octopuses, as well as a cautionary tale on the perils of turning against Nature.
--Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice & the Blade, The Real Wealth of Nations, and Nurturing Our Humanity.
Narvaez and Bradshaw help us see that “progress” has brought with it many unintended eco-psycho-biological consequences which are not healthy for humans and the rest of the biosphere. They help us to look within our species’ deep history for clues to inspire a more humane and sustainable future for our children and all our Kin. We must rapidly adjust the systems and conditions to support a modern version of the evolved nest. This book should be on every educator’s, environmentalist’s and, especially, every policy maker’s reading list. Now is what matters to every baby.
-- Ruth Anne Hammond, author of Respecting Babies: A Guide to Educaring for Parents and Professionals
“The evolved nest is a beautiful image of comfort, care, protection, companionship and growth. The Evolved Nest (the book) is a beautiful description of the contexts for birth and development in various animal species, with the focus always on helping us understand ourselves and our truest needs in relation to nature. We suffer when we separate ourselves off.
-Peter Gray, research professor of psychology and neuroscience, Boston College, and author of Free to Learn
“In their book, Narvaez and Bradshaw offer an approach to learning what Bateson refers to as ‘the pattern which connects mind and nature.’ They provide teachings that stem from observing our non-human relations, showing how they exemplify a life-sustaining kinship worldview that guided us for most of human history. If we heed what they say, it could do so again.
--Wahinkpe Topa (Four Arrows), aka Don Trent Jacobs, Ph.D., Ed.D., co-author of Restoring the Kinship Worldview: Indigenous Voices Introduce 28 Precepts for Rebalancing Life on Planet Earth and author of Teaching Truly: A Curriculum to Indigenize Mainstream Education
"There is a poetic space where diverse sciences meet and mingle: that’s where authors Narvaez and Bradshaw live. Their awe-inspiring accounts of animal mothering are more than fascinating: they’re nostalgic - reminding us of our best selves, our way Home. This book is a glorious manifesto for re-wilding humanity, our return to the ways of relationship that will bring us back to peace and ecological belonging. Herein is an urgently needed vision for today”.
--Robin Grille, psychotherapist, author of Parenting for a Peaceful World and Heart-to-Heart Parenting(Australia)
“This beautiful exploration of our world family gives us a rich and deep understanding of the universal principle of the Evolved Nest. From Parrots to Elephants, from Penguins to People, we share countless centuries of evolution that we must deeply comprehend and revere. The science is all here, the anthropological studies, and most of all the wisdom and heart to synthesize this into a comprehensive “call to arms”…our mother’s arms that nurture and sustain all species. Narvaez and Bradshaw have given us a blueprint for a compassionate world-there is hope in these pages!
--Barbara Nicholson, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International and co-author of Attached at the Heart
“The Evolved Nest is as profound as it is illuminating. Narvaez and Bradshaw masterfully guide us throughout animal worlds to show us just how connected and interwoven all mammal species are with nature, including humans. All are born with biological needs, drives and expectations to be fed, comforted and nurtured. The beauty and elegance of nature's design is tailored perfectly for every species. Since the advent of colonization, industrialization, and capitalism, humans have been evolving away from nature. We have essentially lost the core of what it means to be human. The Evolved Nest can help us bring our inherent purpose back into focus to what really matters, what indigenous cultures have always known, being in harmony with and respecting mother nature, trusting our instincts and nurturing our children for the future of our world.
--Lysa Parker, cofounder of Attachment Parenting International and co-author of Attached at the Heart
“Dynamic and rich in stories about human and animal development, The Evolved Nest: The Nature Way of Raising Children by Darcia Narvaez and G. A. Bradshaw weaves together natural ways humans and mammals conceive, carry, birth and parent their babies. The side-by-side combination of science and beautiful descriptions of early life for animals and human beings are at once inspiring and a warning to how we must return to natural ways and rhythms if our species is to survive. This book is a work of hope. Read it to find our way back to the Evolved Nest.
--Kate White, MA, BCBMT, RCST®, CEIM, SEP, PPNE, PLC, Founding Director of Education for the Association for Prenatal and Perinatal Psychology and Health, Founder and Director, Center for Prenatal and Perinatal Programs and Prenatal and Perinatal Healing Online.
“Narvaez and Bradshaw have written a beautiful book that seamlessly integrates knowledge from the natural world with anthropology, psychology and even sophisticated neurobiology. The wisdom they have extracted from the complexity of development and evolution is deep and refreshing. The Evolved Nest has much to teach academics, society and parents about how to support the rearing of a healthy child.”
--C. Sue Carter, PhD, Professor of Psychology, University of Virginia and Distinguished University Scientist, the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University
Discover the nine components of our evolutionary pathway to wellness, our Evolved Nest featuring videos, podcasts and posts for each.
Join Darcia Narvaez's LIVE monthly discussions on the science of EN and her short film, Breaking the Cycle. Watch the film below and register for the LIVE calls.
Join the Evolved Nest's online community on our safe Mighty Networks platform. Ask Darcia your questions directly and engage with other New Cycle Makers.
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